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Iraq: No haven for ancient world's landmarks

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From 883 to 859 BC, King Ashurnasirpal ruled an empire that included Iraq, lower Egypt, the Levant, and parts of Turkey and Iran.

Today, only the wind whistles through what's left of his excavated palace. Pigeons roost from the rotting timbers while guards who have no fuel for their vehicles – or even flashlights – patrol an archaeological treasure that few people visit. Outside, one of the guards sits on a mattress laid out next to a mud brick hut with broken windows.

"It's a place that's just been neglected," says the Iraqi site manager. Despite improving security in the area, he says he's afraid to give his name. "Before, there was more attention paid to it. From the occupation to date, there has been no renovation at all – there's no money."

For nearly 20 years, there's been little money for upkeep. Under United Nations sanctions following Iraq's 1991 invasion of Kuwait, Iraq was barred from importing even rudimentary conservation materials. That's when the site began to fall into disrepair. After the US invasion in 2003, thieves sawed off two large pieces of the reliefs.

Unlike the systematic looting at archaeological sites in the south of Iraq, the main problem here has been one of neglect.

Nimrud and other Assyrian capitals have been on the World Monuments Fund list of most endangered sites since 2002. The fund says looting, lack of conservation, and an economic crisis have placed them in jeopardy of eradication.

"My sense is they are suffering from a lack of attention more than any kind of willful destruction – what we call in the conservation business 'demolition by neglect,' " says Suzanne Bott, a conservation expert with the US State Department's Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mosul.

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